Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Today is a special day and I’ve always known that , it is just that I did not know how special this one Thanksgiving would be for me. A few days ago I got a call from one of my fellow World Master Chefs Society member asking for help to support the USO and help set up a holiday buffet at DFW Airport for the troops going back to Iraq, Afganistan and Koweit after their two weeks leave was over. Yeah, I know, two weeks is not much when you are fighting a war on the other side of the world but I guess it is something anyway.

I never could have imagined how special these few hours would be and got to talk to and spend a few moments with our men and women in uniform. What an honor to mingle with our heroes ! Yeah, you heard it right as that is the best and only term we should use when we refer to them in our conversations.

We set up a traditional turkey day buffet with all the trimmings, sweets, beverages and all the good will we could provide.
I really enjoyed this time with the troops and hope to do it again whenever possible. How can we not do this ? It is a little effort that goes a long way and as Chefs, it is what we do best and I could not think of a more deserving bunch of people . They were all very appreciative and enjoyed it very much. On this traditional and all American holiday it the very least we can do.
I was there for a few hours and when I left to celebrate with my American family, my car was not touching the ground as it felt so good to just be part of such a great occasion.
So here is the deal, next time you find yourself within 10 feet of a soldier, a fireman, a police officer or a paramedic go thank them for their service and shake their hand !
I promise you , it won’t hurt at all, will only take a few seconds and it will make you feel great and engaged in the life of your country. You don’t have to wait for new year’s eve to make that resolution, you can do this anytime and know that you will make a big difference in the life of people that you might need someday.

I don't have to tell you about their destination but here it is:

As you see, saying good bye is a hard thing to do, very hard and by the way, real men DO cry and this was no different, especially when going back into harm's way. It was difficult for this young man to leave his family behind...........again !

I hope your Thanksgiving was as great as mine and I know that I will treasure these memories for a long, long time. Would that I do that again ? You bet ! And for as long that it takes to bring them all home. I hope you join us next year.
Finally a big thank you to Patrick Mitchell and all the USO volunteers for making it happen.

Chef Andre

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chili and beignets, are you kidding me ?

Nope ! I did not have a class today but I had a lot of fun. There was the annual chili cook off/Pepperama sponsored by The Texas Chef's Association but I did not do chili, I leave that to the self proclaimed experts, not that I can’t cook chili but I was not into it. I did however join my Chef colleagues for this occasion and instead I did cook some beignets. Yes , you heard it right, beignets !
Some people asked me why I was doing beignets in a chili cook off. Now that is an easy question to answer: because I can ! Please don’t take this the wrong way, it seemed like the right answer at the time. Would I change it looking back ? Absolutely not ! I had a ton of fun as I cooked about 250 beignets. I was just thrilled to see people lined up and fun, fun, fun, it was !

I know what you’re thinking, another CafĂ© du Monde version. No, no this was the real thing. For those of you who have been to New Orleans and Cajun country, the beignets they do are basically a cross between sopapillas and donuts. If you serve those in France, chances are that they will throw them back at you, literally .
The French version is basically a pate a choux that has been flavored with vanilla, citrus zest or other flavors. It is that simple and the result is a light, airy, delicious beignets after it has been rolled into a vanilla flavored granulated sugar.
Go ahead and get the vanilla beans, split them and squeeze them within that sugar. It is the best and so simple. That was my contribution and I only charged one dollar for two of them. A good deal right ? It gets better. I decided to give the proceeds to a good cause, in this case it was the Family Gateway Place which is a shelter for people who happen to find themselves homeless for one reason or another and where they can find a temporary and safe home while getting introduced to the food business should they decide to pursue a career in that field.
I did not raised a fortune but it felt good just to do it and I think next time I will think even bigger as I ran out of product and had a line for the longest time.
For those of you who might think that every act of kindness deserve recognition, please chew on this for a minute : Trophies are for bragging rights but the memories are forever and so very special !
It was not a large amount of money that I raised but the cause made sense to me as we really can make a difference one deed at the time.

So next year I might do "cafe au lait and beignets " which would be great for the late risers and also the afternoon snackers.

Next blog is from Paris CDG where I have a 3 hours layover. Can't wait for a real cafe/croissants !

Chef Andre

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What do you mean foie gras class ?

Fowl butchering and fabricating along with foie gras 101 was my class ten days ago. I know I know, I am a bit behind but isn't everybody ?
Well, this post might be a bit long but stay with me as it is rewarding for me just to have the opportunity to share some of my culinary moments. I do thank you in advance for your comments.

Why should you learn how to truss a bird ? Two reasons: better presentation and moisture retention meaning less drying out. Why do most people eat dried and overcooked chicken most of the time ? Yes it must be cooked well but juicyness still applies for chicken as well as pork. That is a debate for later and for now here are a few step by step shots:

That's what I call trussed ! See how plump it looks ?

I had about fifteen people in that class and after the butchering part it was time for "the piece de resistance", foie gras . I was lucky to connect with two of the finest people I have ever met from Artisan Sonoma Foie Gras Co. in California which they own and operate. They flew down here and were so gracious with their support and participation in the class that I was on a culinary cloud all day ! The world is better with Junny and Guillermo Gonzales in it, trust me.

Twenty five years ago they went to France, uprooted their family and spent a year in a farm which produced ducks and geese for foie gras . They learned the artisan way to care for the birds and now produce what I believe is the best quality foie gras in this country today. It was their dream to put to good use the lessons of their French stay . By the way they both speak French as well and sometimes better than I do.

This is a sliced duck leg with a fricassee of spinach and mushrooms. The duck has been cured and smoked then roasted.

A while back I did say that duck fat rules and is king ! Well this is the ultimate ruling: duck poached in its own fat and it is called confit !

Not frying, just simmering in the oven.

The confit is ready and drainning. You can confit just about any part of the duck. Deliiiiiiiiiicious ! Of course the class went past the alloted time but nobody cared as this was a unique class that you just can't find anytime you have foie gras cravings.

I prepared foie gras in many different ways , hot, cold, cured, you name it and it was on my to do list for that day .

Here is the terrine of foie gras cooking very so slowly. Yummmmmmmmmmm !

Before and after pics .

Get that country bread on the grill, the terrine is ready !

Let me count the ways: terrine de foie gras, cured foie gras in grey salt, foie gras au torchon, foie gras roulade in Malbec wine, poached foie gras on a bed of fennel confit with black pepper caramel sauce, a duo of salmon and fresh foie gras en papillote with Muscat wine, what ? fish and foie gras ? You bet and you should try it sometime .

Above left is the cured foie gras in grey salt. The texture is unbelievable and the good news is, minimal loss as the salt will draw the moisture out while firming up the texture of the foie. Simple and easy to do but still, follow the rules. Keep it cold and keep it clean !

I also prepared foie gras flan and foie gras cookies. I am not kidding ! I know it sounds nuts but for now I am still working on that one. Trust me it is not as crasy as you might think, think about a savory cookie and replacing the butter with foie gras. Ha ha ! Do I have your attention now ? Stay tune for future results on that one as it is now on Chef Andre experimental list .

Everybody got to taste them all and did not get tired of foie gras. It was fun as well as very special.

Guillermo had brought with him a whole duck with the foie still inside and he proceeded to butcher the duck and extract the whole foie gras , very very carefully of course. What a sight and a treat at the same time ! I had not seen this done since my much younger years in Southwest France and this was like being home again. There is no doubt that Junny and Guillermo take very good care of their ducks and it was easy to notice as Guillermo was processing that bird.

There it is, above.

Now , I am not a duck pathologist but that duck was the poster boy for animal health ! Snow white fat, no bruising, no signs of mishandling, perfect skin, this must have been a happy duck ! Alas, he was called to foie gras heaven for our dinning pleasure. There is no question that Junny and Guillermo learned the right way while in my old homeland. I always loved the taste, sounds, smells of what we, French people, call " le terroir" which is hard to translate but I would call it "the soul of the land". Basically it is a blend of fresh food ingredients, wines, cuisine and culture along with some bragging rights, of course. One of them days I will get to spend more time where it all began, for me that is.

When he was done Guillermo showed us a beautiful fresh whole foie gras that was of A+ quality
with its perfect ivory color, no blemishes or blood spots, just gorgeous. It was so gorgeous that we did taste it raw ! As for the first timers, they all uttered the same words after tasting it " Oh my God, this is pure butter", a few more converted, works for me !

Now, that's a foie gras !

Of course there is more in a duck than the foie gras. He fabricated the magrets ( which are the breasts and they can only be called magrets if they come from a foie gras producing duck or goose ) the legs which are used for confit or simply roasted or cured and smoked. The bones from the carcass ? I saved them for my clear duck stock which is used to poach the foie gras au torchon. Yep, it is all about duck ! Below is the foie gras au torchon sequence:

First the duck stock.

Then the poaching.

Then the shocking. After it is cold, retied the torchon and wrap in food film as air itself is the biggest enemy of foie gras.Keep it cold !

Needless to say I did enjoy that class to the fullest and was so much into it that I plan on visiting the duck farm soon. I know I won't be disappointed now that I have met Junny and Guillermo.
Some of you will bring up the controversial subject of force feeding the ducks and to those I say, do your homework, educate yourself on the subject, it is all out there. Just don't believe everything you see as some of it is totally bogus and offensive to most of us . Who are those people who think they can tell me or anybody else what to or not to eat. Don't bother to listen to the so called animal rights defenders as most of them have their own agenda and do not give a rat's you know what for the ducks,the chickens or the animals in the zoos for that matter, as long as they can fullfill their own goals which are not as noble as they want you to believe. I had to say this as I know the question will be asked of me down the road. So, there, more arguments ?

It is ok with me as I am now armed with better knowledge to talk about it, so before you beat me up on this, do a bit of research on the subject and maybe join me for some honest discussion and a taste of foie gras and magret the way it was meant to be enjoyed, with friends to celebrate life itself. Oh, and don't forget the confit as the ducks produce succulent meat also. By the way the Sauternes is on you !

More on the next post !